The Euclid Corridor Project: Pulling the Plug
by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed May 15, 2001

The RTA has pulled the plug on its plan to use electric trolley buses on the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. Instead, it will go with a new generation of motor buses, called hybrid electric vehicles. The project, linking Public Square with University Circle, has undergone quite a metamorphosis since it evolved from the proposed Dual Hub rail system several years ago. The Euclid Corridor plan, unveiled in 1998, envisioned a landscaped median with transit-only lanes for trolley buses all along Euclid Avenue. An RTA official at the time said trolley buses would be “unique and environmentally friendly vehicles”, noting that motor buses are noisy and polluting.

So what has changed?

First, the new high-tech buses would be unlike anything now on the streets. They would use low-sulphur diesel engines to drive a generator to produce electricity. They would be 60-feet long (compared with the current 40-foot buses) with an articulation (bellows) near the center. They would have a low floor for fast and easy boarding, with doors on both sides. RTA’s general manager Joe Calabrese says “this technology was not even available when the Euclid Corridor Project was conceived.”

Using the new buses would save RTA the estimated $38 million cost of installing overhead wires to power trolley buses. And the vehicles would be more flexible, since their routes would not be dependent upon the wires.

The RTA says the new vehicle, described as quiet and environmentally friendly, is being included in a revised environmental assessment to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration this summer.

The new technology is called Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. Other features of the Euclid Corridor Project remain the same. Buses would use the landscaped transit-only lanes in the middle of the street, with automobiles limited to the outside lanes.

In a previous Reed’s Read, we pointed out that urban projects sometimes have unintended consequences, citing the experience of Chicago. State Street was turned into a transit mall in 1979, with disastrous results. The revival of That Great Street came after it was reopened to traffic in 1996. Granted, the ill-fated Chicago experiment barred all automobile traffic, whereas the Euclid Avenue Project would merely limit it. So it may seem like comparing apples and oranges. On the other hand, the State Street plan applied only to the Loop, while the Euclid Corridor Project covers more than 100 blocks.

Whatever your take on this issue, Cleveland has much to learn from Chicago on the matter of downtown revitalization. State Street must be doing something right. New department stores are moving in. Sears is opening a new store this spring, returning to State Street after an absence of 16 years. And a Lord & Taylor store will be part of a $251 million dollar retail/hotel/condominium project. All of this in spite of the continuing growth of glitzy North Michigan Avenue a few blocks away.

A spokeswoman for the Greater State Street Council gives three reasons for the resurgence:

  • The 1996 renovation (reopening the street to traffic) makes the street more attractive and accessible.

  • More people are moving back into the city, to condos in the Loop.

  • The city created a district supporting a 24/7 environment, which includes educational institutions, theaters, and cultural activities. Some similar things are beginning to happen in Cleveland. Downtown is becoming a popular place to live, and Playhouse Square is a vibrant theater district. Still, Euclid Avenue has a long way to go to return to its former glory. The transit plan is only part of the equation.

RETURN TO Cleveland, The New American City

CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Reed's Read"

Copyright 2001 Tom Reed